4×10: “The Children
WARNING: SEASON 5 SPOILERS AHEAD
So here we are: the season four finale of Game of Thrones. I was both looking forward to and dreading this, because hooray for Arya- and Tyrion-related things but boo for waiting-a-year-for-the-next-installment-related things.
After the events of last week’s episode, Jon heads north of the Wall to sit down for a parlay with Mance Rayder (even though nobody told him to). That’s when he finds out that the situation is hopeless, that they were just being toyed with in that battle where they lost like half their guys, and that the Wall will be overrun by nightfall. Well, sh*t.
deus ex machina Stannis Baratheon and his Iron Bank-supplied army ride in on horses to obliterate… what’s actually a pretty small chunk of the wildling force. Seriously, they maybe kill like a hundred guys. But they take Mance prisoner, which I guess means the wildlings scatter? And now they won’t attack the wall? Or something?
I’m hoping they’ll address that a little more in the next season, especially since book readers already know that Stannis is going to be sticking around for a while. So it’s a good thing Jon’s spent this season getting his leadership skills in place, ’cause crossing Stannis is already proving to be a tricky business. But it’s been nice to see Jon grow as a character from a boy into a man who’s able to lead the Night’s Watch.
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys is holding court when a weeping man comes in with the charred bones of his daughter. Drogon, the big black dragon who can’t be controlled, has upped his game from goats to people. But unlike the goats, a child can’t be so easily replaced.
Much like a mother who’s so tired of her oldest child’s shenanigans that she never lets the younger ones have any fun, Dany makes the hard decision: she takes Rhaegon and Viserion, her two remaining dragons, down into the dark catacombs where they can’t hurt anyone. And goodness, they are PISSED.
In the first season, Dany transitioned from a young and impressionable girl into the Mother of Dragons. In the second and third seasons, she built up a fearsome reputation as the Breaker of Chains and as a ruthless conquerer. But to me, this fourth season was about her losing control of everything she’s gained for herself.
Think about it. Ser Jorah is gone. Slavers are taking back Qarth and Astapor, not to mention all the slaves she freed. The slaves here in Meereen are asking to be sold back into slavery because they never asked to be freed. Drogon is terrorizing the countryside and her other two dragons are underground in chains. Even Grey Worm, the leader of the Unsullied, is getting ideas about things he’d like to do with his castrated man-parts.
Dany can’t keep hold of anything right now, and it’s only going to deteriorate next season. She’s going to take a lot of desperate actions to save her city from the Sons of the Harpy. For her, this is the beginning of a steep decline. But maybe that’s what’s needed to get her off her butt and back to Westeros where she belongs.
In King’s Landing, Tywin Lannister informs Cersei once again that she’ll be marrying Loras Tyrell as soon as is humanly possible. In a last-ditch effort to keep herself from getting sold off like a cow, and probably in no small part to hurt him as much as possible, Cersei tells Tywin about her relationship with Jaime.
And because he’s Tywin Lannister and nothing is more important than the integrity of his family (not to mention he’s pretty old and that’s fairly scandalous even for regular-aged people), he doesn’t believe her. Cersei goes back to Jaime and tells him she loves him, and they have nasty sex right there on a table.
Now, I’ve heard some criticisms about how what happened in the Great Sept of Baelor was just “non-consensual sex that really quickly turned into passionate lovemaking” (I’m paraphrasing). No, I’m really pretty extra sure that was rape, because the whole relationship between Jaime and Cersei crumbled for a big chunk of the season there. And that doesn’t happen after you have really great sex with someone.
In my opinion, the rape scene was probably in part because Cersei had all the power in their relationship for a long time. Jaime was taking it back, especially after having felt so powerless when he lost his hand. (And please do not misread; I absolutely do not condone rape or offer any excuses for something so unforgivably terrible.)
Then I think Cersei came to realize, probably right after she told Tywin about them, that she didn’t just want to be the boss of her brother. She actually loved him (again, a really unhealthy attitude, but then again we’re talking about incest), she didn’t want to marry anyone else, and she was willing to face what the truth brought her if it meant she could be with Jaime — as long as she didn’t lose her power over the throne, of course, because priorities.
There’s another really common criticism that Game of Thrones makes rape into a really casual subject, like it’s just happening in the background all the time. And I realize this probably isn’t going to end well for me, because Internet you are famous for misunderstanding stuff, but I don’t actually think that’s the case here.
See, Westeros is a brutal world. We live in a civilized place where it’s wrong to torture and enslave and kill people, to force them to do something they don’t want to do or be someone they don’t want to be. I think we forget that we’re comparatively civilized, at least in some respects. There are still parts of the world today where slavery is alive and kicking, where women and children are sold into the sex trade. That’s a sobering fact, and it’s the world these characters live in.
So when we see stuff like Craster’s daughters getting raped in the background while former crows are drinking wine out of the Old Bear’s skull, it’s not for sexy reasons. It’s to underscore the fact that this world is not fit for anyone to live in, and maybe they deserve to be overrun by White Walkers if it means there’s even a chance that the shreds of remaining humanity might become a society even a fraction more decent.
When Jaime is done having sex with his sister, he heads downstairs to break Tyrion out of prison before his execution in the morning. But then Tyrion gets a terrible, awful idea and makes his way upstairs instead. He goes into Tywin’s room to have a little chat with him — and in the bed is Shae.
There follows a brief but powerful struggle in which Tyrion fights for his broken heart and Shae fights for her life. Tyrion wins, and he strangles her. He then grabs a crossbow and bursts in on Tywin while he’s in the bathroom (hey, we actually get to see a fantasy world bathroom!).
He’s not particularly put out when he hears about Shae’s literally-just-happened-like-ten-seconds-ago death, but that’s not surprising. Tywin suggests they go into his office and have a talk, because of course he wasn’t going to send Tyrion to his death. But that’s the equivalent of talking a crazy person over to the desk so you can hit the panic button and get the security guards in there. Tyrion’s not going for it, so he shoots Tywin with the crossbow. And now he’s dead.
Okay, so I’ve also heard some criticisms of Shae and her motivations throughout this entire season. People are saying that she was super likeable and had no reason to turn on Tyrion. But you know what? Nothing she did rang false for me. She may have loved Tyrion for a minute there, but she was so angry by his perceived betrayal and him sending her away that she came back with a vengeance.
In the end, Shae was a woman who sold herself for money, and she wasn’t a whole lot more. She may have deceived us for a bit by acting like she loved the poor besotted Tyrion, but she enjoyed sex and she was perfectly happy to use it to form an alliance with whoever had the most gold.
Tywin Lannister, on the other hand, is a bit more layered. You might be asking yourself if he really did intend to spare Tyrion, if he would have called off the execution at the last second and sent his son north to the Wall instead. But this is Tywin Lannister. This is a man who puts his family first. And a womanizing dwarf who killed his mother on the way out doesn’t have any business in the perfect Lannister family.
But here is the thing that seriously bothered me about that entire scene: why didn’t Jaime mention that important little snippet of information about Tysha?! Remember back when Tyrion first met Shae and he told her about his wife? And how she was a whore that Jaime had hired, and when Tywin found out the entire garrison of Casterly Rock had a turn with her?
Yeah, Tysha wasn’t a whore. She really did love Tyrion. They literally met by accident, fell instantly in love, got married, and had an amazing two weeks together before Tywin Lannister ruined everything. So it really bothers me that Jaime didn’t tell his brother about Tysha, because that was Tyrion’s main motivation to go kill Tywin in the first place.
In fact, everything that happens to Tyrion after that is a direct result of the conversation he had with Tywin: after what happened, Tysha went “wherever whores go.” Tyrion was supposed to be trying to find her, the one link to the young and relatively carefree person he used to be before that entire experience scarred him for life, which is how he ends up taking the journey he does.
At the end there — not in a courtroom or a throne room, but in a bathroom, where all men are equal — it was between Tyrion and Tywin, the unwanted son and the unfeeling father. Tyrion finally won, but to me it’s a hollow victory when Tysha doesn’t have a part in it. And now Tyrion’s on his way across the Narrow Sea, where he’ll find adventures and where his path will cross, however briefly, with a certain disgraced knight and the queen he loves.
Finally there’s Brienne and Arya, who finally meet for the first time. Brienne wants to take Arya to safety, to which the Hound responds that A) nowhere is safe, and B) she’s not taking Arya anywhere. This leads to one of the greatest one-on-one fight scenes I’ve ever seen, even including Oberyn and the Mountain’s trial by combat. Seriously, Brienne delves deep down and finds some kind of primal instinct that makes her rip off the Hound’s ear — with her teeth.
It’s a long and brutal battle (although I loved every minute of it), and it ends with the Hound getting chucked over a cliff and Arya disappearing. Brienne searches for her everywhere, frantically trying to fulfill her oath, but Arya is nowhere to be found. And that’s where we leave Brienne the Beauty, scouring the land for the youngest Stark girl.
The Hound is busy dying at the bottom of the cliff, and Arya casually saunters over to see what’s what. Clegane tries to goad her into killing him, but when that doesn’t work, he resorts to straight-up begging. And even that doesn’t work: the cold-eyed Arya just watches for a minute, then steals his money bag and wanders off.
At first when I watched that scene I wondered what it was all about, because I didn’t think even Arya was as cruel as all that. But now that I think about it, I think it’s just her being ruthlessly practical. She only liked the Hound when he was useful to her, and now that he isn’t, she’s on to the next thing without a look back.
That being said, there might still be some lingering fondness there. I mean, she wanted to cross his name off her list for the longest time. The Hound even brought up Mycah’s death when he was trying to goad her into killing him. So if she didn’t, it’s either A) because she wants him to suffer, which I kind of doubt because even now I don’t see her being that cruel, or B) because she’s decided not to cross off his name after all.
Arya makes her way to a harbour, where a ship is leaving for Braavos. She hands over her iron coin to the captain, who looks positively in awe of her simply because she owns it. They exchange the phrases “valar morghulis” and “valar dohaeris,” and just like that, Arya’s on her way to Braavos, where she’ll learn everything she needs to cross every single name off her list. Closing credits.
So what are my final thoughts about this season?
I found that there was a really good plot stringing the whole thing together. I fully expected the season to end with Joffrey’s murder, but this way was so much better because we got to see the aftermath. And let’s be real, Tyrion’s trial was the highlight of the season.
One of the lower points for me was Bran’s whole storyline. I’ve never really been interested in what he gets up to, even though he’s supposed to be this amazing character who can possess animals and Hodors at will. But he’s really not.
I just can’t get into his story for some reason, and maybe that’s because the writers try to paint his journey as more of a spiritual experience than a physical one, even though he travels pretty damn far. Or maybe it’s because he’s a sh*tty character who doesn’t see anything morally wrong about jumping inside Hodor’s head. Or maybe it’s because Jojen and Meera were kind of lame and terrible. Or maybe it’s because the only interesting person in their little group is Hodor, and he’s a glorified sherpa. I dunno.
I found that there was some decent action, especially in “The Watchers on the Wall,” which had fight scenes comparable to any Lord of the Rings movie, especially given that there were only a hundred guys manning the Wall. Then there’s Oberyn and the Mountain’s fight, which you already know I loved. And there’s Brienne and the Hound’s fight, which was less brutal but more animal.
For the most part I never found any of the episodes to be slow or boring, because even when it was all political stuff going on, it was all weighted with such significance that I still enjoyed it. Even with Dany’s storyline, where nothing is particularly fast-paced, I still found the greater significance of those events to be compelling.
For example, there’s Hizdahr begging to take his father’s body down from his cross. It’s not particularly interesting, but given that it’s the first time Dany has shown weakness and made the mistake of doing so to someone who’s affiliated with the Sons of the Harpy, there are gonna be some serious ramifications from that decision. Even the bits with Drogon and the goats (also a bit dull) were leading up to Dany’s decision in this episode: to lock up her dragons to keep people safe.
So overall, I felt that this season was pretty strong, story-wise. People are saying that it isn’s sustainable money- or story-wise, especially with the fact that “The Watchers on the Wall” cost something like $8 million to make, but that isn’t true.
See, no matter how ratings might drop if the writers don’t manage to combine A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons properly (although really, those are the two slowest books of the series, so we’re probably doomed to some slow plots anyway), we’re still gonna keep watching to the end. Because no matter how sh*tty the story turns after good ol’ George inevitably dies between books 6 and 7, because of course that’s how the world works, we’re still going to want to know how it turns out.
So even if the next four seasons are nothing but watching Bran learn how to greensee and watching everyone leave Dany one by one, I’m still gonna keep watching. Because Cersei is still going to be awful, Tyrion is still going to be amazing, Arya is still going to be a BAMF, and Game of Thrones is still going to be one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
Episode Final Grade: A
Season Final Grade: A+
- YOU GUYS I DISCOVERED VERY RECENTLY THAT KIT HARINGTON WAS IN HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 AND HOW DID I NOT KNOW THAT SOONER.
- Man, I always like seeing Tyrion and Jaime together. There’s some really obvious affection there, and they’re maybe the only two family members in the entire show who actually like each other (well, except Arya and Jon, but here’s hoping they aren’t brother and sister at all. Y’feel?).
- It’s pretty interesting to learn that even the wildlings are afraid of what lives north of the Wall. And it’s so very, very human: people don’t usually draw together under one leader because they want to conquer. They do it to survive.
- You need to watch this right now. That is all.